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Artist hopes portrait of Kurt Cobain sparks conversations about substance abuse, stigmas

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Posted at 10:55 AM, Nov 22, 2021

The pandemic has brought renewed focus on mental health and substance abuse. Two friends are talking about these issues and taking on the stigmas involved.

“I gather. I collect. Then, I assemble,” said artist Wayne Brezinka, tearing pieces of newspaper and furiously painting over them. “It’s a storytelling process that has a lot of depth.”

Brezinka's art starts at a worktable and ends with portraits made of tangible items. Take his Fred Rogers portrait. It’s made from crayons, cassette tapes, pieces of sweater, and things donated by the “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” archives. All the items help tell the story of a person.

“Mr. Rogers at his essence is kindness and love,” said Brezinka.

“Ben Franklin has wires in his hair as an inventor,” he continued, motioning to a different portrait. “There’s pieces of money, actual money. There’s pages of books and things like that. A thinker! I’m fascinated by success. I’m fascinated by human beings in general.”

Ultimately, Brezinka hopes what he does can inspire, encourage. That part is something he’s got in common with friend, Casey Hyatt. The way Hyatt reaches people is through his voice, sharing his story.

“I was raised in a world where chronic substance abuse was something so common, it didn’t occur to me it was dysfunctional,” said Hyatt.

It was just after those youngest childhood years that Hyatt’s substance and alcohol abuse began. He was only 11.

“I didn’t graduate high school,” he said. “I dropped out early. I had chosen using over everything.”

He was 19 when his mother refused to bail him out of jail.

“I was facing charges for felony possession and theft, which was me going into a store and stealing alcohol,” Hyatt remembered. “I had to sit in jail.”

It was a step toward recovery and toward who he is now, helping people with mental health and substance abuse obstacles at Nashville, Tennessee’s Cumberland Heights. Hyatt talks to people as the coordinator of extended care management.

“It’s learning how to live clean, learning how to live sober, learning how to live happily,” said Hyatt.

Helping people on that journey is what Brezinka wanted to do too when he made his choice of who to cover for his latest portrait.

Brezinka met up with Hyatt at Cumberland Heights to unveil the finished portrait of frontman for the band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain.

“I was interested in Kurt Cobain and where he would be today if he’d gotten help, and if he’d been seen,” said Brezinka. “He kept his drugs in a Tom Moore cigar box. The person of Kurt is sitting in the box. To me, it tells a bigger story, not just of him but all of us. Here we have a public side we portray, and we have a private side we don’t want people to see. What was he struggling with as a young person internally?”

Two good friends believe people who are struggling can be reached in so many ways. Maybe it’s through a powerful work of art. Maybe it’s through a deeply personal story. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

“I don’t think you have to have some robust message to be able to help people,” said Hyatt. “The more we talk about it, the less stigma it is. I found the motivation toward recovery I needed. Changed my life forever.”